I sat there, blubbering to a nine-year-old girl. I wanted her to know how she had blessed my son and me. Many special needs moms would give anything to see their child have a friend, which made her kindness even more special—I know what other kids have faced. Her family was moving many states away, and our church was saying goodbye. This was my chance to communicate to her what a blessing she’d been.
My eight-year-old with Aspergers syndrome has made a lot of progress, but the social deficits are starting to show more around his peers. I’ve seen him frustrate a friend by reaching over and drawing on the boy’s Sunday school paper. I’ve seen him upset because he couldn’t negotiate sitting on a couch with the rest of his class. So, I was quite surprised when he developed his first crush at an age when many boys do.
He would say hi to her and sit next to her in children’s church. Then, one day he took a flower petal and yarn and made it into a necklace for her. I helped him tuck it safely into an envelope so he could give it to her at church. When he presented it to her, she opened it, said something like, “That’s so pretty,” and put it on right then and there. “Thank you.” She didn’t stuff it away or act embarrassed.
A month or two later, she wore it to church again. On purpose, so she could show him that she wore it. I’m sure my son was pretty proud, and I was extremely touched by her gesture.
Occasionally he’d draw a picture for her and bring it to church. She’d take it and compliment the artwork. He made her another necklace. Again she put it on immediately. “Look, it matches,” she said.
She was such a good encourager. My son didn’t know the difference. He didn’t know that other boys in his situation had been made fun of and excluded. He just knew that she was a good friend. I knew that she was making a difference.
The night of the farewell dinner, my son wrote his very first love letter. I asked him to show it to me just to make sure there wasn’t anything outlandish in there. He wrote that he hoped she would have a good trip and that he would miss her. Then, in typical Aspie form, he copied something he heard on a cartoon and ended with, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” He had a bit of an embarrassed grin on his face when he came back from giving it to her in front of her friends. Instead of ignoring him or making a snide remark, she thanked him.
I thought when they moved that his crush would lessen, that he would forget about her. I was wrong. Every so often he mentions how he much he misses her. He sent her a letter with a picture warning her about alligators that may live in her area. My son told me if he won Jeopardy, he’d use his money to go visit her.
This whole first crush experience could have been much different. She could have been put off by his awkwardness or invasion of personal space. She could have giggled with her friends and tried to ignore him. Instead, this nine-year-old girl demonstrated kindness and friendship. She gave my son good memories and me a full heart.
It doesn’t take much to reach out to kids who are different, whether they have special needs or not. All the training you do with your child that instills compassion and generosity will make a difference in the life of a child. You never know how your son or daughter’s example will influence other children to follow suit. You never know how that few minutes of play or conversation, or the gestures of a smile and “You can sit with me,” provide a break from trying to fit in, from working so hard to make friends, from feeling lonely.
So you see, when your child is kind to a special needs child, she changes the world. She may not affect change on a national or global scale, but she changes the world for the other child and his family. And the more often she reaches out, the more worlds she improves. Trust me, I know.
Looking for a book that will help you teach your child about befriending a special needs child? My Best Friend Will, by Jamie Lowell and Tara Tuchell, is an amazing picture book that will pull at your heart strings. Its black-and-white photographs speak just as much as the poignant text. Tara assisted then fifth-grade Jamie in completing this beautiful story of friendship.
© 2014 by Home Educating Family Association. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published in 2014 Issue 4 of Home Educating Family Magazine, the publication with the most meaningful discussions taking place in the homeschooling community today. Visit hedua.com to read back issues and for more articles, product reviews, and media.
As the Communications Manager at Home Educating Family, Jenny enjoys interacting with homeschoolers. She is also excited to bring special needs homeschooling to a mainstream magazine. She and her husband Greg are learning to view life through the eyes of their sons–one with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and one with a propensity for pretending. You’ll find lots of interesting stories about finding grace in autism over at her blog, ManyHatsMommy.com.
Publication date: March 13, 2015